British Beekeepers Association


British Beekeepers Association

Bees and People

Some information about honey bees and the interaction between bees and people

What Do I Do If I Get Stung?

Bees will not generally sting if unprovoked; usually the bee has been trapped in hair or crushed. When close to a beehive avoid flapping your arms and moving rapidly; if the bees are antagonised, walk away through undergrowth or trees, if possible. If you are stung, scrape the sting out with your fingernail as the sting still pumps venom for some time after the bee has left.

The record number of sustained stings one person has had, and survived to count them, is 2,243. Ouch!

Also see Sting Information

 Is It True That A Bee Sting Can Be Good For You?

Old beekeepers seldom suffer from arthritis or rheumatism and, in Russia, bee venom is used directly as a treatment of joint conditions. Research is ongoing.

 What Do I Do If I See A Swarm Of Bees?

Don’t panic: bees in a swarm are universally in a good mood. They cannot easily sting, even if antagonised, as they have gorged themselves with honey and cannot get their bodies into the best position to sting. If the swarm is not causing a nuisance, then leave it, gradually the bees will cluster in a bush or tree and remain there for up to 3 days. During that time, scouts will be sent out to look for a new home, the only problem may be they will choose your chimney so put your fire/ heating on low and enjoy their visit. If the swarm is a nuisance then the police usually keep a list of local beekeepers that can help or find a swarm collector near you.

 How Do Beekeepers Catch A Swarm?

A swarm is actively looking for a home, so if the beekeeper puts a nice hive with perhaps some old honey comb in it close to where the swarm has settled, then it is easy to persuade them to take up residence. Normally a few bees are dropped into the hive and they then ‘fan’ their scent to the other bees once it has been ‘approved’. It is a dramatic sight to see a swarm ‘marching’ into a new hive.

Bees already in residence perhaps in a chimney or old tree must be removed with their honeycomb containing the young grubs and the queen. If the bees cannot be reached then the beekeeper is helpless and the council or local pest control can destroy the colony.

 Apart From Honey, Are Bees Useful?

Yes, very: it is calculated that pollination by bees benefits the economy by millions of pounds per annum. Certain crops yield up to 25-40% more if efficiently pollinated, and farmers in some areas of the world pay beekeepers to put hives into their fields and orchards. In the USA alone, bees pollinate about ten billion dollars worth of crops per year (1997). In addition to pollination, bees produce wax for candles and Royal Jelly. During the Middle Ages one of the most important jobs in an Abbey was the Beekeeper, as a huge quantity of wax was constantly required for the ceremonial candles.

 Is Beekeeping Hard Work?

In terms of time… about ½ an hour per hive per week from mid April to August. In addition honey is extracted twice a year (UK).

The first record of people keeping bees was in Spain about 6000BC



 How Much Will It Cost Me To Keep Bees?

For the clothing and tools about £150 and a good second hand hive with bees about £60-£80.

 Will I Get Stung If I Keep Bees?

Yes. A few people are allergic, but most will swell for a short time and then gradually become more immune.

 A Beekeeper Uses Smoke To ‘calm’ The Bees, How Does This Work?

Bees are woodland insects and evolution has taught them to fear fire more than anything else. When smoke enters a hive the bees are immediately diverted to eat as much honey as possible as there may be a need to abandon the hive at a moment’s notice. This diverts them whilst the beekeeper takes their home apart.

 How Does A Beekeeper Find The Queen?

Some times with difficulty, she is normally close to the newly laid eggs and her long body and large legs make her stand out. Once found many beekeepers put a small dot of paint on the back of the queen bee that makes her much easier to find the next time. The paint comes in five colours each colour representing the year. As Queens seldom live longer than five years, five colours are sufficient.

Colour Year Ending

White        1 or 6

Yellow        2 or 7

Red           3 or 8

Green        4 or 9

Blue          0 or 5


Modern Beehives Look Boring. Why Don’t Many Beekeepers Use The Traditional Looking White Terraced Hive?

Although the old style hives look pleasant at the foot of the garden there is nearly twice as many components in their construction. Internally the old hive is the same as a modern hive but is clumsier to use. Incidentally the ‘old’ style is called a WBC hive after its inventor William Broughton Carr and the most popular standard ‘hobby’ hive in Britain is the ‘National’ hive.